Richard Buckner exploring the country vein

BY DAN WATSON | APRIL 09, 2009 7:30 AM

Ever heard the old joke that supposedly sums up the country music-genre? What happens when you play a country song backwards? — the singer reconciles with his wife, his runaway dog returns home, his overturned pickup rolls back up on its wheels, and he gets out of prison.

But with every type of music, there’s an artist who plays against type.

Veteran musician Richard Buckner serves that role in country. He will play the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., on Saturday at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12.

He brings a sound to the table that isn’t found on any local country radio stations. After 15 years of touring and 10 full-length albums, he hasn’t garnered much mainstream success, but he is recognized as a leader in the alternative-country movement.

A short tour during April and May brings him back to Iowa City for the first time in nearly two years. Though he hasn’t released a new CD since 2006’s Meadow, he is touring to promote three reissues from his catalogue: 1994’s Bloomed, 2000’s The Hill, and 2002’s Impasse.

“There wasn’t really a response to Meadow,” Buckner said. “Now with the re-releases, I’ll play a smattering from all of them.”

In San Francisco, he was involved in numerous bands after college, but he made most of his money as a street musician. In 1994, he traveled solo to Lubbock, Texas, in order to record with famed country producer Lloyd Maines — father of Dixie Chick Natalie Maines — and the result was Bloomed.

The often quiet and somewhat reclusive Buckner said he chose to be an independent act if for no other rationale than “money and personal-space reasons.”

With the critical success of Bloomed, he signed with major record label MCA (now Geffen Records) in late 1996. Given the deep pockets of such a label behind him, he started to experiment with alternative-country sounds. He implemented tricky arrangement methods and an array of background singers for his CDs Devotion + Doubt and Since. These techniques gained him critical recognition, but he was dropped from MCA in 1998 because of underwhelming sales figures.

Even with that setback, Buckner continued to pump out a new CD about once a year, including his most experimental album The Hill. The LP, released by Overcoat, a small Chicago-based indie studio, runs as a single 35-minute track and contains excerpts from an anthology of the poet Edgar Lee Masters.

At present, he is under contract with indie label Merge Records, and he recently completed a film score for Dreamboy, a movie scheduled to première this fall.

“When I get home from this tour in May, I’ll start recording my next record for Merge,” he said. “I was supposed to have already started it, but my home recording thingy had a meltdown. It’s getting repaired.”

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